Many years ago, somewhere in the Swiss Alps, I was blasting through a remote area early on a Monday morning.
The sun had come up to reveal clear blue skies. The air was crisp, and dew had settled on the sun-soaked grass.
Sweeping through a left-hand bend, a vista opened up. And without consciously making a decision, I pulled over on a gravelly recess by the side of the road.
I switched off the engine; the purr of my bike was immediately replaced by a cacophony of birdsong interspersed with bouts of silence.
Removing my helmet and jacket, I made myself comfortable on a rock – and I just sat there.
I hadn’t seen another person all day. There were no cars, no motorbikes, no tourist buses, and not even any locals.
There was just me, the birds, and the landscape in front of my eyes.
Motorcycle Touring As An Introvert: How It Changed Me
I didn’t realise it at the time, but that experience changed me.
It sounds cliche. But being in that particular spot at that particular moment changed my outlook on life.
On an emotional level, I grew.
And seven years later, I find myself heading up this wonderfully challenging project that you’re reading right now.
I knew at the time that it was special.
But I didn’t realise that it would change my life and inspire a dream.
That was the first little step in the creation of Motorcycle Tourer.
Solitary Travel In The Pyrenees
A few years later, I found myself in San Sebastian in the middle of a street carnival.
Groups of young revellers milled about as music boomed out of open-fronted bars. Families hopped from restaurant to restaurant enjoying the local tapas.
I could easily have joined in the merriment. I wasn’t made to feel like I wasn’t included, nor was I vilified for being an outsider.
People hugged me in the street and thrust shots of alcohol into my hands. But instead of joining them, I returned to my hotel where my room overlooked the Bay of Biscay.
Having spent a few hours peering out to the Atlantic ocean, I turned in for the night feeling emotionally cleansed from the gentle lapping of the waves.
‘Introverted’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Unsociable’
I didn’t go back to my hotel because I’m antisocial or withdrawn.
Far from it.
I’m what psychologists call an ‘ambivert’ – which means I flit between extroversion and introversion depending on how I feel.
In everyday life, people see me as an extrovert. I have a strong personality, I make friends easily and I integrate well into most groups.
And even whilst touring, I’m happy to interact with locals, other travellers, and hotel guests.
But on the inside, I’m often introverted. I prefer to seek solace in the beautiful surroundings that embrace me. In daily life, I need my own space and the freedom to think.
When touring, I like to stop when I feel I’m being called. Or ride at the pace I feel like.
And in a world where I’m constantly forced to dance to the beat of everybody else’s drum, touring lets me find my own rhythm.
Touring lets me observe from the outside; grasping a feel for local cultures without getting lost in the middle of it.
Motorcycle Touring As An Introvert vs Cultural Immersion
I’d like to say here that I’m not sniping at people who choose to get lost in the middle of a cultural milieu. Almost all my friends choose to experience new countries and cultures by immersing themselves fully within them.
I have friends who’ve taught English in foreign countries and others who have worked their way through Europe seeking employment as they go.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But for me, inward travel brings about peace and solace that comes from spending time alone in nature.
Motorcycle touring as a lone-wolf provides me with an opportunity to reflect on my life. It allows me to find closure for past grievances or to find clarity on future aspirations.
Enjoying Reserved Interactions
I enjoy exploring paths for no other reason than they look like they might lead to somewhere interesting. So when I see a million bikers heading towards a popular mountain pass, I turn off early to explore routes unknown instead.
For me, the pleasure comes not from blasting over mountain passes in a group of 12, but from short chats with locals. It comes from unplanned interactions with random farmers in random places.
I remember once stopping for petrol at a privately owned kiosk by the side of the road in Belgium. I was greeted by a lovely old man who looked to be about 95. And behind him trailed his little old dog who looked to be as old as his owner.
We couldn’t speak each other’s language. But we communicated through our mutual love of the scraggy old Jack Russel that sat between us.
For an hour, we sipped on lemonade and puffed on cigarettes whilst the dog basked in the sunshine and lapped up the attention.
Years later, a similar occurrence happened in the Pyrenees. Having parked up to admire the scenery, I ended up spending an hour helping an old lady shift some heavy rocks in her garden.
Again, we didn’t share a common language, but we bonded through her dog, Larry.
Being Alone Doesn’t Make You A Loner
What extroverts fail to understand is that I’m happiest when I’m wasting away hours sat by a river in Luxembourg. Or when I’m in the mountains listening to the sounds of nature and taking photographs.
And I like to spend days in hard-to-reach places of the Dolomites where I won’t see anyone at all.
It doesn’t make me weird; it makes me comfortable in myself and happy with who and what I am.
It doesn’t make me a hermit; it simply means I’m not afraid to be alone with my thoughts.
Motorcycle Touring As An Introvert Mitigates Compromise
All that said, I absolutely love riding with my local group – I do nothing but laugh when I’m with them. But there are always compromises to negotiate.
Slower riders feel like they need to speed up. But if they speed up too much and stray out of their comfort zone, it could all end badly.
Similarly, the faster riders of the group need to slow down or wait for the slower riders to catch up.
When riding in a group, you either stop when you’re not hungry or ride past restaurants when you’re starving.
And you often end up visiting sights you’re not interested in whilst not being able to stop and take a picture of something that does.
Sometimes you want to keep the throttle pinned for just a little longer when everybody else wants a break.
Or sometimes you’ve had enough and want to mosy along enjoying the scenery. But that’s hard to do when everybody else is intent on breaking the sound barrier.
Western Culture Doesn’t Reward Introversion
In the east, introversion, self-reflection, and the ability to truly contemplate are highly revered qualities.
But western civilisation seems to tout constant socialising. Everything we see or read promotes maximum contact with others to fully immerse ourselves in, well, everything.
Even at work, we inhabit open-plan offices to encourage us to constantly share thoughts and ideas.
And whilst there’s nothing wrong with teamwork or sharing ideas, not all of us are wired that way.
I, like most introverts, don’t need to be around people from the second I wake up to the second I go to sleep. I just don’t need it on any level whatsoever.
In fact, it gets on my nerves after a while. I get tired of listening to people babble on about shite for no other reason than they think they’re not allowed to shut up.
Solo Touring Raises Eyebrows
Unfortunately, the above social dogma has made its way into touring and travel, too.
Social butterflies will question your motives when you tell them you’re touring alone. Their curiosity will make you feel like you’re a weirdo.
And having to justify it makes you feel like you’re some kind of loser.
But you’re not a loser. You’re an individual. You know who you are and you have the backbone to do it alone when most people can’t leave the house without first reaching for social acceptance.
If you’re an introvert, don’t be pressured into touring in a way you don’t want to tour.
I can (and often do) ride in groups. But there is something innately victorious about conquering a tour on my own steam.
And if you feel the same, don’t be put off by extroverts who make you feel like an outcast for choosing to ride alone.
Motorcycle Touring As An Introvert: Coming Back Revitalised
I’ve come back from group tours in the past where I’ve needed a week to get over it.
But these days, I come back from my solitary tours revitalised, re-energised, and with an uncluttered mind that’s ready to take on the world.
When things go wrong, I fix them with nothing but my own creativity. I come back stronger and more experienced.
And in a world where solitude is harder and harder to come by, a little time alone in a place where there is nothing but mountains, lakes, and trees might just be the ticket you need.
You don’t need to justify your reasons for travelling alone to people who don’t understand you.
Those people don’t need to (and probably won’t) understand your relentless quest for solitude, space, and quiet.
But that’s okay.
They have their way and we have ours. Neither is any more right than the other.
So if you’re thinking about touring but wondering what that ‘makes’ you, it makes you a strong, independent thinker who doesn’t need the rest of the world to do what makes you happy.
Revel in your reputation as a free-spirit, a thinker, and a creative.
And go out there and do it.
Did you enjoy this post? In that case, you’ll love these, too!
- 7 Self-Indulgent Motorcycle Touring Tips
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- Motorcycle Touring Is Good For You: Scientifically Proven Benefits
- Motorcycle Touring Miles Per Day (And Why Time Is More Important)
- How Riding Motorcycles Benefits Mental Health
Top image via Fabian Schmiedlechner / Unsplash